To do first on a cruise

By Cynthia Rignanese
This item appears on page 12 of the December 2012 issue.

I am an avid cruise-ship traveler, having cruised in and around five continents. I recently took a cruise to 10 countries in Northern Europe, and I wish to share eight tips about what to do within the first few hours of boarding any cruise ship.

1. Ask your stateroom attendant for a terry cloth robe. They used to automatically be placed in staterooms but not anymore (unless you are in a suite), though you can ask for one. They run out of these comfy items quickly, so don’t wait to request one.

2. Book a table in any of the specialty restaurants if you want a certain time or date. Later in the cruise, you’ll still be able to get a 5 p.m. or 10 p.m. reservation at the last minute, but if you want to dine at 7 p.m. on, say, your birthday, be sure to book it immediately to avoid disappointment.

3. See the maître d’ if you don’t already have a dining room seating time or if you wish to change your time. Going during the afternoon will be faster and more efficient than trying to work with the maître d’ during the dinnertime crush.

4. Book any shore excursions that you consider a “must.” Let’s say you don’t have a Russian visa and your ship will be in St. Petersburg for two days. If you don’t have a shore excursion booked, you won’t be able to get off the ship!

Or maybe your dream is to swim with the rays in Grand Cayman, and without that chance your vacation-enjoyment quotient will dive. Since once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions have limited availability, book such excursions as soon as possible to secure your spot. The price of each excursion is set in advance and will not waiver, so there is no purpose in waiting.

5. Enroll in any classes you are interested in taking. Many regularly fill to the maximum class size, leaving latecomers disappointed.

6. Go to the onboard library, as the selection of books will evaporate about eight hours into the cruise.

7. If you are boarding in a US port and have a US cell phone, complete your last-minute calls and texts. Only while docked in or close to a US port will your cell calls be free. Offshore, the ship’s satellite system kicks in and calls/texts can cost as much as $9 per minute. If your cell phone is “smart” and roams, before leaving home have your cell provider turn off the key components to avoid a massive bill.

8. If you are traveling with your own computer, surf the Net for info about the destinations on your itinerary, check e-mail and check the weather forecast while you are still in port. (For the best connection, sit outside on a lounge chair on a lower deck on the side of the ship closest to the pier’s terminal buildings.)

Once at sea, you will most likely have to pay for Internet access, which can be very pricey. (On the ship I was just on, it cost 66 cents per minute and, with a slow connection, took 15 minutes to load the first page.)

I have found free WiFi in 90% of the ports I’ve visited, so I never use the Internet/WiFi on board the ship.

Now that your onboard cruise chores are done, enjoy an adult beverage and have a great cruise!

Lake Wales, FL